Medical marijuana dispensary review: Universal Herbs in Denver

Maybe it's just me and I've visited too many dispensaries in the last five years, but sometimes the names of these shops sound like heavy, stoner-rock bands from the '70s. Like,"'Did you see the festival lineup for Hemp Fest, man? Kind Love, Nature's Kiss, Good Chemistry, Standing Akimbo and, dude, Universal Herbs is headlining!" I had that thought about Universal Herbs the other week and laughed to myself as I walked in the front doors, no doubt looking like a showered and cleaner version of the crazies that meander up and down Park Avenue on a regular basis.

Unviersal Herbs

800 Park Ave West Denver, CO 80205 (303) 756-1414

Hours: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Raw marijuana price range: $7-$12 gram $25-$40/eighth-ounce, $160-$190/ounce. Other types of medicine: Edibles, BHO "flake", vaporizers and vaporizer refills Online menu? Yes. Handicap-accessible? Yes.

I thought Universal Herbs was one of the most recent dispensaries to start doing business in Denver, opening up just before the new year in what I assumed was an attempt to start off as medical, then make an early transition to recreational. But after my visit, I realized it's the former Apothecary of Colorado under a new name, owners and locations.

And so far, thirty days into recreational sales, the shop has remained a medical marijuana dispensary and my budtenders told me there's no plan to switch over.

Universal Herbs has parking just west of the storefront, next to the schizophrenic taqueria that also advertises Philly cheese steaks. The shop looks somewhat sketchy from the outside, with the owners leaving up all of the gridded metal ironwork over the doors and windows, like they're deathly afraid of the foot traffic from a few shelters and outreach centers nearby.

When I entered the store, I was greeted by a woman in her twenties; she was behind the low, store-width front counter. Behind her was an unnecessary amount of space devoted to the shop's offices, with a boardroom table and huge desks setup. Patients sit across from all of this on plastic chairs and the whole thing has a public utilities feel, as if you're buying pot from the DMV. The only thing missing was one of those old-school red numbered-ticket dispensing machines.

In the back, an all-female budtender staff was busy weighing out shake jars and tidying up the cases. I got the pitch right away for signing the shop up as my primary center, hearing promises of Herbs matching my first eighth, quarter and half-ounce. I politely declined and got down to looking at the herb.

Indica on one shelf, sativa on the other. But the center was low on supply the day I was in, with no more than six or seven strains on display in the glass cases. Also on hand were grams of "flake" wax that looked like pressed, rotten green cheese. I thought we were moving beyond wax like this as a community, but apparently not everyone is on the bus quite yet. Herbs also carried Aspen vaporizer pens, which sounds okay when you say the full name. But the girl kept calling them just "Aspens", which sounds an awful lot like "ass pens".

The regular-tier buds were in jars in the glass counters. Out of those eight strains, only two or three were worth bringing home. The rest were either underdeveloped, smelled like wet hay or completely mislabeled. For example, the huge, orange-pistil covered buds of the Brain OG looked identical to the Strawberry Cough. I have never seen a shop blatantly misname pot, but I know it goes on occasionally and I think this one might be the first I've actually noticed. That might not be the case, though. Maybe help is just needed in the grow room.

Continue for the rest of the review and photos. Not that the other clientele seemed to mind. While I was shopping, two people came in and purchased herb next to me -- both opting for the lower-quality $25/eighth and $195 an ounce deal the shop was offering. I wanted to stop one dude with a killer leather Broncos jacket and let him know about better ounces to be had, but kept my mouth shut.

There were a few strains worth noting, though. I liked the Banner #1 enough to bring home at $25 an eighth. Despite the photo, the single bud was dense and packed with trichome goodness throughout. Breaking up the chunky flower let out the piney, fresh-cut-ginger-finish aroma of the buds, which hit about a seven on the nasal scale. That smell came through well in the first two hits from a bowl and lasted even longer out of a vaporizer. It was good for all-around use, and I would pick up a good appetite from a puff in the morning that kept me going through lunchtime. Also helped relieve stress, and a big bowl after work was just what my internal doctor ordered.

The #3 Bruce Banner phenotype was on display, too. The buds were smaller and more compact; they didn't have the smell strength of #1, but it was still worth considering. Additionally, the shop had a decent Flo, at least for $25 an eighth out the door. The two "top top" shelf strains sold for $40 an eighth, though neither the Skunk River nor the Girl Scout Cookies cross seemed to be worth a try. Extra money for not much more quality.

The real winner for me was the Tahoe OG, with a powerful, rubbery, tart, earthy odor out of the jar that just wasn't to be found with the other kushes on the shelf. The buds looked a little spindly and wispy in places and didn't have the full pine-cone structure they should, but overall I was really impressed with the eighth I brought home. Very potent, with a kick-back-and-relax buzz complete with time-warping capabilities. The type of buzz where you smoke a bowl at noon, and realize ten minutes later that it's 3 o'clock. Medically, strains that act like this are great for pain and relaxation for me, though they do little for nausea or appetite. If Universal Herbs can get the rest of their buds up to this level, the shop might actually stick around.

Read more reviews from Westword's medical marijuana dispensary critic, William Breathes, in our Mile Highs and Lows blog, and keep up with all your Colorado marijuana news over at The Latest Word.

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William Breathes
Contact: William Breathes